Petitions office in China to accept complaints online

Critics fear accepting online complaints will make it easier to track petitioners rather than improve the handling of public's grievances

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 02 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 02 July, 2013, 7:35am

The state body that vets public grievances has launched a website to take complaints about all abuses of administrative power, a move intended to help ease the crush of petitioners who flood into the capital.

The website run by the State Bureau of Letters and Calls allows citizens to file complaints without making a costly and long trip to Beijing - where they are often intercepted by their local governments and detained.

But some rights lawyers and petitioners questioned whether such online complaints would receive the requisite level of attention.

"Their problems cannot be solved even through face-to-face dialogue, so I'm not optimistic about the function of the website," said Yuan Yulai , a prominent rights lawyer. "Their problems would be much more easily fixed if the country had a legal system that could earn the people's trust."

I'm not optimistic about the function of the website. Their problems would be much more easily fixed if the country had a legal system that could earn the people's trust
Yuan Yulai, rights lawyer

The website was nevertheless overwhelmed by visitors yesterday and was down for part of the morning, state media said.

Petitioners' complaints often mirror the issues blamed for larger incidents of social unrest on the mainland, from corruption to land grabs to mistreatment by law enforcement officers. To get a hearing from the central government, petitioners technically must exhaust local venues first.

The State Bureau of Letters and Calls set up an office to handle email complaints in 2009, although they were limited to farming and other rural issues. Social welfare and construction cases have since been added.

The announcement yesterday by bureau chief Shu Xiaoqin would expand complaints to all issues, including abuses of administrative power.

Shu said the website provides a convenient way to register and monitor the progress of complaints. The bureau would review and reply to every single petition.

People seeking to file complaints online must first register their personal information, including their real name, identity card number and residential and work addresses. Such requirements could discourage some petitioners.

Many petitioners are forced to sneak into the capital, where they must elude local authorities seeking to send them home, beat them or cart them off to extralegal "black jails".

Yang Jinfen, who has travelled to Beijing several times to protest against her brother's wrongful torture and imprisonment in Henan , said she would not use the website.

"At the same time the bureau launches its website, there are many interceptors waiting in front of the bureau to ensnare petitioners before we can file our grievances," Yang said. "By giving information like our names and addresses in the system, it's just much easier for the government to track us in the future."